Marijuanatopia?---Placing pot media in the U.S. social imaginary: Surveillance, consumption & pleasure

by Lavoie, Dusty, Ph.D., THE UNIVERSITY OF MAINE, 2011, 333 pages; 3484680


This dissertation conducts a critical hermeneutic analysis of various popular media artifacts in which the representation of the illegal drug marijuana figures significantly. Surveying a variety of media, I argue that the invocation of marijuana in these artifacts encompasses the thematics of surveillance, consumption, and pleasure, and that these tropes can be productively understood in terms of their ideological, aesthetic, and performative signification in the social imaginary. TV shows (Weeds, South Park , Family Guy, American Dad!, True Blood, Supernatural, and The Vampire Diaries), films (Adventureland, Zombieland , Pineapple Express, American Beauty, Reefer Madness: The Movie-Musical, the Lost Boys franchise, the Twilight franchise, 30 Days of Night , I Am Legend), images (the Michael Phelps bong photograph), and music lyrics (Eminem) are investigated for their treatment of marijuana.

First, the hegemonic nature of visuality emerges with marijuana in the critique of surveillance of three types: social, carnivalesque, and spectacular. Second, white masculine paradoxes are traversed and upended with marijuana across themes of consumption in the forms of: spherical improprieties, the stoner buddy bond, and homophobic/homosocial hip hop. Third, the excesses of sexuality, pleasure, and same-sex entwinement manifest alongside marijuana the thematics of: suburban escape, cult and Camp, and vampiric addiction.

These media artifacts from the past dozen years or so utilize marijuana beyond its taboo nature to do a variety of work. Marijuana's unique historical legacy and powerful symbolism as countercultural centerpiece are taken up, critiqued, and reshaped in these media for many purposes: to satirize the U.S. War on Drugs and the predicaments it has created as opposed to solving; to wax nostalgic about peaceniks and stoners; to stir up controversy and spectacle; to parody the mainstream acceptance of some substances over others; to revel in the homosocial spaces and frames of mind marijuana begets; to hyperbolize the drug's own history of propaganda; and to explore the expansion of consciousness as a pleasure as addictive as the vampire's hunger for blood. These and other articulations of marijuana's vast, complex, and versatile place in the modern U.S. social imaginary are interrogated as they signify a persistently utopian element of representation in popular media.

AdviserNathan Stormer
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsAmerican studies; Multimedia communications; Film studies
Publication Number3484680

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